"The first and simplest emotion of the human mind is curiosity" Edmund Burke
A Grumpy Reflection On Faith and Fallacy
By Dom Stasi ResponDS1@aol.com
August, 14, 2003
I'd rather know than believe. Five words, penned by a paragon of thought, they have stayed in my memory and my own humble thoughts since I first encountered them several years ago. For me, the words leapt from the pages of Carl Sagan's masterpiece of reason entitled, The Demon Haunted World.
Humanity lost Dr. Sagan to a prolonged illness in 1996. But in his short 62 years, the renowned scientist and philosopher left all of us far more than most. Among his gifts are those five haunting words: I'd rather know than believe. Ironically, what I've chosen to believe Carl Sagan was relating, but I'll never know for certain is this: Seek truth though knowledge, not through faith.
His words haunt me still. They haunt me first because they provide me an insight to faith, and the wanting to believe that is somewhere inside us all. I want to believe that my interpretation is exactly what their author meant. I want to believe that my children will live long and happy lives. There are certain things I want very much to believe. The simple phrase thus tempers my cold, engineer's logic with humanity. I'm aware now that there is something in all of us that sometimes would rather just believe than know.
But those five words haunt me for a far more disturbing reason as well. Because, today, even the non-scientific me, the personal, entirely human, fiercely American me who wants so desperately to believe his beloved country is a force for freedom and human dignity in a world never quite sane, is instead seeing our government engaging in behavior that is neither logical nor humane, and by no means, sane. We the people of the United States are being held hostage to our own government's domestic economic policies, many of which border on the fraudulent. At the same time, our monetary treasure, our priceless young, and our military might are all being squandered further still by imposing dictatorship and indignity on entire regions of the world. They then expect us to believe, such actions are consistent with the promotion and spread of democracy.
My country appears guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of what I cannot help but consider at the very least irresponsible, at the very most criminal conduct both at home and abroad. Simply put, under the administration headed by George W. Bush, America's actions as a member of the global society demand a more plausible explanation than that which we, her psychologically and financially exploited people, are being offered. The gangsters, oil barons, arms merchants, and theocrats who've usurped our ostensibly representative government, represent to be sure, but what they represent is the interests of themselves and their masters, not those of their constituents. Yet, despite what is unfolding before us, the majority of this country's honest, freedom-loving people seem ever less interested in knowing, and ever more inclined toward believing that what we're being shown and what we're being told and what is being carried out in our name, is truth. Thus, as a governed society, we leave ourselves ever more vulnerable to deceit, and ever more willing to rationalize our own deception. We have a credulous, drinker-turned-abstemious teetotalist, faith-driven, unelected leader, of dubious intellect and questionable character, whose historical perspectives are derived from mythology more than from fact. Such a litany of shortcomings make this president an easy mark for deception and coercion by the gaggle of single-minded, Reagan-era ideologues, moralists, and fundamentalist zealots with whom he's allowed himself to become surrounded. Further, his past, and doubtless future, eagerness to not only accept, but aggressively solicit inordinately large campaign "donations," fortunes numbering in the hundreds of millions of dollars, have made him a most willing slave to his "private-sector" corporate masters. And he, dubious Dubya, is in turn left to mislead, misuse, and bankrupt a trusting American populace.
There is nothing new here, not by any means. These are the inevitable, historically foreseeable products of faith… juvenile, irresponsible, blind faith on the part of both our current "leader" and those Americans who've acquiesced to being led. For those willing to consult history, the warnings are abundant. For those willing to confront the present, they need only look about. The evidence is everywhere. But we must first throw off the blinders of unwarranted faith, especially as it relates to our current American leadership. They have not only faith enough, but certainty enough, and righteousness enough for the rest of us combined.
But few of them have brains enough to realize or care that the public proclamation of faith, so characteristic of evangelicals like our president, has always been an open invitation to deceit. For every Elmer Gantry tent revival charlatan, stuffing his wallet with the money of faith-driven fools, there have been legions more of the willing credulous, screaming their blind faith and desperation from the rooftops, telling the world - and its con artists - that they will believe what they're told without evidence. The single criterion for enlisting their belief, is that they be told what they want to hear. What predatory charlatan, what wild-eyed idealist could resist such a taunt? I'd rather know than believe? Well, so would any deceivers looking for a mark. They'd rather know than believe too. The proclamation of faith, lets them know - it lets them know exactly who can be deceived. Whether we're describing a holy roller or a political ideologue, faith is the marker, the faithful the mark. Bush's strident proclamations of faith as his driving inspiration, make him an easy mark for the righteous rogues who have flocked to his side. His well advertised credulity is an all-too-conspicuous key to the Homeland's strongbox, and its gun locker, too. The contents of the former has already been stolen, the nuclear-capable, irresistibly powerful contents of the latter is being used almost without letup to steal foreign treasure. So far, it's been like taking candy from a baby. In just his first three years in office, $600,000,000,000.00 of our taxes and savings have disappeared. $600-billion! That's right, there was a $260 billion federal surplus when Dubya took office. That money was ours. He wrapped it in the flag, called it a tax cut, or the price of a war on terrorism, or just about everything but what it was - a con.
Where's has that money gone? Consider this. The Bush Administration and their media stooges estimated that the war in Iraq would top out at an already staggering $79 billion. Estimates released to the Associated Press yesterday now project that the true costs of the war and subsequent rebuilding of Iraq (care to guess by whom?) will cost another $600 billion. One reason for the disparity, the Bush League experts who first calculated the war costs neglected to include the cost of, among other things, ammunition.
Words fail me.
But, nonethless, add that little 700% mistake to the note that will come due all too soon. Tack it onto the already burgeoning $340 billion yearly(!!!) federal deficit created under Bush and we- you and me - have a disaster for our children's and the Republic's future, and there's virtually nothing else to show for it but the note. That is unless you're among the absolute wealthiest 2% of Americans who need our commonly shared and individually earned tax money the least but get the most of it. Because an inordinately huge chunk of our money went to the wealthiest masters of war and masters of oil - and I do not mean their employees, or even most of their executives, but the absolute wealthiest. You might also have benefited by the tax cut if you're one of the three million Americans who've lost their jobs under Bush and consider your extended leisure time a benefit. If so, we might all rejoice! There will be many more of you thanks to the Bush Administration's policy of awarding another $79 billion in tax credits to companies willing to move their operations (and jobs) out of the country! He expects us to have faith in his policies. Why would we? God only knows, and He's not talking. Not to me, that is.
Make no mistake, the tax-cut-as-jobs-creation program is a lie. This administration has about as much interest in creating American jobs as a scorpion has in sensitivity training. By eliminating jobs, by reducing the jobs pool, by encouraging the growth of slave shops offshore, this administration is doing exactly what its corporate owners expect in return for their $300 million campaign "contributions." The fewer jobs to spread around, the lower the American pay scale over time. Desperate skilled workers, fattened and indebted by their continued spending - the only economic policy this administration has promoted since 9-11 - will accept whatever they can get - and at whatever salary. Such control over America's workers is precisely what Bush's corporate owners want in return for buying him the presidency. These are the same people who will deny an employee a 5% pay raise. Did you think they would give away $300 million to a candidate from their sense of generosity, or was it patriotism?
Now this sort of shenanigans might come as a surprise to those who dutifully tune in to the nightly network newscasts in order to stay informed while meeting the demands of a busy life. The anchorperson probably just failed to mention it. Did the network "news" anchorperson also just fail to mention that Bush's dividend tax cut saved the CEO of one of our three major television networks $40 million on his personal taxes this year. Did you hear a lot of objective analysis or fact-based criticism of the administration's domestic economic policy from the anchorperson on the network "news?"
As for America's gun locker, well, as commander in chief, this president is using our duty-bound military as unwitting or unwilling armed robbers in his foreign adventures which appear ever more to be an overt grab for individual wealth and power unimagined by our counrty's founders or our immigrant forbears. We find ourselves a hyper-power monster unchallenged in the only world we know, with a president who acts without knowledge or provocation. He's comfortable in the belief that whatever America does, we are rightous, we face no danger of retaliation, and god is on our side. Bush's advisors are secure in their own belief that we're strong enough to experiment with the world. We can try our ideologies without fear of retribution. We can kick sand in anybody's face. We can take their stuff too, if it's stuff we want. What're they gonna do?
Consider how this simplistic stupidity is playing out today. Bush was told of a New Domino Theory. It went something like this: once a tyrant or two falls through overwhelming American military force, democracy would spread through the Mid East country-by-country like tumbling dominoes. He liked what he heard. With no substantive frame of reference, he believed it. Perhaps uncurious George W. Bush should have read about the old Domino Theory before invoking the new one. But he acted on his faith, despite that there is no evidence in all of human history to support such lunacy. Thousands upon thousands died. Now he justifies the bloodshed with sophomoric claptrap. He's already sacrificed our troops to Afghanistan only to let it fall back into chaos. Now, with the place in a worse shambles than it was when he found it, but with a powerless American-installed puppet government in place, Dubya's cronies can step in and build the pipeline from the sea to the Urals that his own father tried and failed to do by creating the Taliban. Farther south, in the continuing saga of endless war, Dubya has today deployed apparently expendable American troops to Liberia to ensure that nothing interferes with the overthrow of their despot of the moment, Charles Taylor. Many of you may not know exactly why we're deploying troops to Liberia. That's understandable. After all, Liberia is a country known less for its nationhood, than it is renowned for its being the first word in the phrase: "Liberian Oil Tanker." The multinational oil kings in multinational Houston can thus continue to register their pricey machines outside the US and save all the more multi-billion dollar taxes Dubya has given back to them without some pesky, unstable, greedy local strongman to deal - and share - with. And finally, George W. Bush still has time to pull off this Iraq thing, and in doing so complete the oil ring, thus showing his old petrochemical cronies, that - despite his decades spent as the oil executive who never found a drop, and never turned a profit - Dubya can ultimately be remembered as the oil industry's greatest benefactor since the inventor of gas gouging.
He offers us his "faith" and takes our young. He initiates the slaughter of thousands of civilians in the firm belief that Iraq will be a "democratic utopia," (his words) thus justifying his actions to himself. He believes this despite the humanitarian and economic disaster those very actions have wrought in the entire region. He asks no relevant questions that might challenge and detract from what little he knows. George is content to believe. I am not.
With that proclamation, let's take a closer look at this issue of faith so central now to our once pragmatic government.
For the record, I have no faith. None. I have faith in nothing. Don't want it. Don't need it. It's a choice I've made. It's perhaps a radical choice, it's certainly an unpopular one. It's also a troubling one. It troubles me not because it's an unpopular position, not exactly, but because the precepts of faith and faithlessness are not falsifiable. In the face of so much of what appears to be faith, exhibited by so many intelligent, so many thoughtful people, I still do not feel that there is something lacking in my world-view. Despite all that influence, all that implication that faith is good; keep the faith; have faith; faith will see you through, and so on, I simply do not accept faith as being altogether rational among adults. I think of faith - perhaps harshly - as little more than a pleasant manifestation of ignorance, a vestige of childhood innocence… presumption without evidence or knowledge. Thus I reject it. Soundly. I'd rather just admit that I don't know something than to accept an answer that has no real basis in fact, but is acceptable simply because it is an answer someone in a position of control formulated for me. That sort of stimulus-response is acceptable in children, pets, and lab rats; reasonable adults, however, should have developed deductive skills that yield informed discrimination between fact and fancy.
When, as a child, you were told by daddy not to play in the street, or not to play with matches, you obeyed without question. Daddy could have been a sadistic lunatic with the judgment of a tree stump, but he was a controlling authority figure and you obeyed. Fortunately for humankind, in the vast majority of instances, fathers are protective, loving men, and figures of limitless benevolent power in a child's small world. So blind obedience is statistically advantageous behavior essential to the survival of the vast majority of little kids. But the point is, children accept and believe what they're told by those in charge. They do so indiscriminately. Kids will believe the lunatic and the loving father with equal conviction. It's a foundation of natural selection. The sadist's kids will have a higher probability of suffering self-immolation, or of being run down by speeding trucks, thus stemming the propagation of their possibly mean genes. The loving dad's kids will probably grow to adulthood, thus maximizing the chances that they'll pass on their forbears' nurturing qualities intact to their own children in turn.
But loving dad also had a much higher probability than might sadistic dad of telling us about the Stork, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Claus… to name but a few. Through the same tendency and proclivity toward credulity, our little faithful selves believed him. At so early a juncture in our development it's all good. But eventually, just as our physical growth displaces our baby teeth when they're no longer advantageous, so should our mental growth discard the naiveté of faith. Adults have a wider range of choices than do children. But to exercise them intelligently, we must accept the responsibility and all the mental work that goes along with critical discretion. Since credulity in adults has no hereditary preclusion, or negative survival implications, it endures generation to generation. In fact, magical, spiritual, and pseudoscientific beliefs, historically form the basis of cultures. Culture forms the basis of tribes. Tribes and groupings certainly do provide survival advantages. Thus, credulity, faith, belief, can be of significant evolutionary benefit. Armies are motivated to the axiom, "Ours is not the reason why. Ours is but to do and die." Can there be a more profound dedication to faith?
Fast forward to today.
Today - in fact every day - our self-appointed daddy in Washington tells us, not about Santa, or the Tooth Fairy, but about the Bogie Man. He tells us over and over again (maybe he's sadistic dad). As of this morning, 59% of American adults still believe him. As predictable as rats in a Skinner box, the operant conditioning of our childhood plays on our ignorance, causes us to believe. Like frightened children, only all big now and no longer cute and harmless, we're trembling beneath our metaphoric security blankets, terrified of shadows. The fear has us lashing out and killing what we can, indiscriminately, just like frightened beasts. Our "leaders" deliberately scare us. They do so because they think we're simple-minded. The majority of us respond exactly as expected. Uncritical, faithful, Pavlovian dogs.
But to be sure, in about a year from today - absent any unsceduled activity from the Bogie Man - just around election time, daddy Dubya, and his flacks, will begin to flood us with the good news. Santa, the Tooth fairy, and all the rest will come skipping back into the broadcast "news" with a vengeance! The credulous majority of our countrymen will be so accustomed to cowering in abject and contiguous terror by then, that anything will sound better than what they've been hearing. Anchorpersons will no doubt start spewing phrases like, "Unemployment growth slowed this year!" Or, "The Pentagon today began development of a freedom bomb." Stuff like that. Happy stuff. Then off our fellow citizens will march to the voting booths.
In a democracy, that's all it takes: Ignorance, faith, adamancy, and a plurality. Given the degree to which the former three exhibit in the general population, the latter is statistically probable.
To the extent that few would agree with me that faith is just a warm and fuzzy manifestation of ignorance, it must still be accepted that, by their very definitions, faith and knowledge can only coexist in inverse proportion. The more one knows about something - anything - the less faith he calls upon when endeavoring to draw rational conclusions about that something. In the adult rational mind, knowledge trumps faith every time.
For example, when geologists tell us the planet beneath our feet is billions of years old, and every one of us is standing right smack on top of the easily falsifiable physical evidence as it orbits the Sun, we might or might not choose to believe them. But you and I can pick up an old chunk of Mother Earth and go have it dated by an indisputable process, a process we are free to understand or not, as we choose. I happen to understand it because it interests me. I chose to spend the time and effort to gain knowledge about the process and the physics behind it. Anyone can do the same. The geologist's claim is thus "falsifiable:" as scientists say. They don't say provable, but falsifiable. Science encourages that its theories and hypotheses be disproved. But doing so requires evidence of fact and the freedom and will to inquire. Be it of poetry or planetry, learning is never discouraged in an open society.
On the other hand, when a "Creation Scientist" tells me he believes that same planet Earth is only four thousand years old, and believes so because he read it in a book whose contents are not falsifiable (neither provable nor disprovable by any mechanism other than faith), and further, he discourages my skepticism. I'm going with the geologist every time.
The scientific method is the best way yet discovered for winnowing the truth from lies and delusion. The simple version looks something like this:
- Observe some aspect of the universe. It can be anything from a distant star, to a blade of grass.
- Invent a tentative description, called a hypothesis, that is consistent with what you have observed. i.e. Grass grows.
- Use the hypothesis to make predictions. i.e. A typical blade of grass will increase in size over time if nourished.
- Test those predictions by experiments or further observations (on an entire field of grass, for instance), and modify the hypothesis in the light of your results.
- Repeat steps 3 and 4 until there are no discrepancies between theory and experiment and/or observation.
When consistency is obtained, the hypothesis becomes a theory and provides a coherent set of propositions which explain a class of phenomena. A theory is then a framework, within which framework observations are explained and predictions made. Anti-scientific interests will attempt to trivialize the concept scientific theory by deliberately transposing the concepts of theory and hypothesis: "It's only a theory. It's not proven." Thus persuading their sycophants that scientific theories are little more than guesswork. Suddenly they respect and require evidence (the other E word). Darwin's Theory Of Evolution is the leading target of such deliberate deception by those who dispute it with irrational postulation.
But the reliance upon faith is nowhere to be found in the progression toward viable knowledge. Nor is faith a substitute when confronted with the unknowable. But a willingness to change ones belief is central to the gaining of wisdom. Science, as the basis for knowing, encourages challenges to its theories, and will question and even abandon them without exception when falsifying evidence is presented however dearly they may be held. Beware those who do not! Beware adamancy!
What I'm saying is simply this: we need not believe in evolution, but neither should we believe those whose powers of reasoning suggest that their forbears refused to participate in it (evolution, that is).
Speaking of descendancy, for a disturbing insight to the Bush administration's exploitation of public credulity and ignorance as relates to the abuse of scientific facts, visit the website:
There are also those who will be quick to point out that we all rely on faith to get us through our daily situations. Who, for example, would voluntarily climb aboard an airplane without having faith that it will fly? Just about everyone, that's who. Because that's not faith. That's a conclusion based on knowledge derived from evidence. The thing has been designed by experienced credentialed engineers according to the laws of physics and practices of science and technology. It's flown before, as have others identical to it in every scientific and mechanical detail. There's little if any faith involved in such decisions, but plenty of empirical evidence and statistical probability. Conversely, and more to the point, the more faith one has in something, the less he actually knows about it. It's incontrovertible logic. That's also why the factory where the airplane was built, has a wind tunnel and a test pilot, quite a few test pilots in fact. Having only one would be an act of faith.
But, alas, it is faith, effectively blind faith or more simply stated - an absence of knowledge - which is the greatest single influence guiding the man who is guiding - or misguiding - his equally credulous countrymen.
Were we not told by this president that Iraq was responsible for the September Eleventh attacks? The Iraq and al-Qaeda were working together? That Iraq was seeking uranium from Africa for a reconstituted nuclear weapons program. The list goes on. (For those seeking a detailed list of 20 "lies" about Iraq told to us by this administration, a detailed list has been compiled by the British Independent, complete with their detailed explanations, can be found at the URL:
The same criminals who've persuaded this ignorant credulous president to empty the public coffers, have used him in other ways as well. The Bush League knew full well that their pious pigeon's credulity was by no means unique in an American society that has been raised on spirituality and therapy. Bush was and is ordinary. America would be as easily deceived as their "leader."
Persuaded by his god and his advisors, Bush has in turn been using the tragedy of September Eleventh to take this country to war for reasons neither he nor his advisors can or will demonstrate. He's used the tragedy of September Eleventh to mislead 59% of this country into believing he is a great deal more than the abject incompetent that has characterized every single one of his prior endeavors. Now, while blowing up two foreign lands, imposing untold suffering on random innocents, depleting the US Treasury of a half-trillion dollars, and using the naiveté, grief and terror of our own citizens as carte blanche to advance the agenda of the warmongering lunatics comprising his cabinet, he is refusing to reveal what is probably the most important part of a tax-funded report on the events and motivations leading up to the whole horrific affair. The President of the United States is refusing to release us the very report we the people have funded and for which we've been waiting through two of the most divisive and critical years in our nation's history. He is refusing to release to us, huge sections of the very report justifying or criticizing the greatest act of faith exhibited by any peoples toward any leader in our combined national history. He's taken us to war. He's bankrupted us. Our children are being murdered in foreign streets daily. He's encouraging the loss of personal freedoms. But no matter how heinous the outrage, we've gone along with the apparent stupidity out of some sort of patriotic sense of country. Some might call it fear.
Why is the explanation being withheld from us? We've been good.
Twenty-eight pages, blacked out, hidden, horded by these tyrants in the used and abused name of security. Why are we allowing it? How do we know such control of information is not compromising our security? Where in the hell is the outrage? This is the congressional report on the events leading up to the September Eleventh attack on our country! It belongs to every American. What in God's name has become of us?
It is no secret that the Bush family and the bin Laden family have been connected through business and banking. It is common knowledge that the Bush family and the Saudi Royal family have both business and personal ties. If there is nothing untoward here, why hide that very part of the report that speaks of Saudi Arabia from the American people who have suffered so much as a result of the actions of what has up until now been a handful of Saudis? Is it because this administration has benefited so much from the actions of a handful of Saudis as well? If they're not the same handful, what's the problem?
The Bush family and the banks they've run have been tied to our enemies before. Dubya's own grandaddy was implicated for trading with the Nazis in 1942. The Roosevelt Administration froze the assets of the bank Prescott Bush directed, UBC, under the Trading With The Enemy act of 1941. There's no secret here. It's part of the public record.
The Bush's survived that one quite well. So I would presume those implicated were determined to be innocent of any wrongdoing. So, c'mon, we're talking Nazis here! Why, then, worry about a few pages about a few Saudis? Pikers compared to the Nazis! Spill the beans, George. We can take it.
We faithful patriotic Americans, (59% of us) seem quite willing to believe anything this Dubya guy tells us as long as he says it with a twang. It matters but little that 41% of us remain unwilling to believe he's hiding those 28 pages from us for security reasons. What security reasons might those be? How about some evidence? We're talking' 9-11 here, George! Are you with us, or are you with the terrorists?
Mr. Bush, the 41% of the American public who would rather know than believe, are quite willing to take our chances with the security thing. Don't shield us from information the way a parent would shield a child from pornography. After all, any nation than can conquer two - count 'em, two - unarmed countries in less than two years has little to fear from anyone but itself.
But I guess we don't count when the other 59% of us and nearly all of our representatives in the congress are snug in the camp of juvenile credulity. They'll believe whatever they're told to believe, and will continue to believe it until the right control figure tells them to believe something new. As for our congressmen, I'm afraid the security thing translates to job, not national, security.
Such adamant preconception, when coupled with a lack of knowledge is the common basis for emotional, rather than objective reaction. We see it every day. Just confront a "patriot" with your doubts… but be prepared for fight or flight.
"Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge," …Charles Darwin
"He (George W. Bush) has the confidence to ask questions that show he doesn't know very much," …Richard Perle
Do we laugh or cry? Perle's words would be a damning assesment from anyone, but from an advisor it's nothing less than an indictment. It means that those most attuned to his abilities, find our president to be ignorant. So serious a shortcoming in a man of 57 years, can only be the result of inferior intellect, a lifelong lack of curiosity, or amnesia. Are any of these the qualities one would seek in the leader of this world's most advanced industrial society? Are these the characteristics a country of nearly 300 million literate people should accept in their president?
"It's very interesting when you think about it, the slaves who left here to go to America, because of their steadfast and their religion and their belief in freedom, helped change America." - George W. Bush, Dakar, Senegal July, 8, 2003.
No man (or woman) who aspires to leadership should reach his middle years not knowing very much. So implies the logic behind Article 2 of the US Constitution. The crafters realized that the acquisition of knowledge takes time. The Constitution says the President must be no less than 35 years of age. Unfortunately, Article 2 addresses only chronological age. It sets no minimum on mental age. Too bad, because there's an amendment that even a strict constructionist like me would endorse!
Bright people ask questions all of their lives. They don't begin at middle age when it's too late to catch up with their contemporary counterparts and adversaries. Yet it is these very inadequacies that are being tested to the extreme - at our national expense - right now in the most important and complex game there is: world leadership. Uncurious George waited too long to begin asking the questions that seemed to so impress Richard Perle. Curious George surfaced too late to save his presidency from ideological advisors such as the highly opportunistic, so-called prince of darkness, just mentioned, or our country from the ravages already well wrought through Mr. Bush's lifetime of ignorance unmitigated by intellectual curiosity.
Through some sort of mutated corruption of popular democracy, we find ourselves "led" by a man who has lived an unexamined life. We take direction from a man of limited ability who has reached middle age without seeking the knowledge that would get him beyond the simplistic mental myopia of "I see things in black and white," or, "I'm not about nuancing," and repeating my personal fave, replete with cowpoke patois, "Yer either with us or yer with the teriss (terrorists)." This is the man we're allowing to deal with the incendiary Middle East. This man who says, "nuke-u-ler," we are allowing to control atomic energy, the environment of our planet, and our children's' very futures. With little knowledge, he must rely on faith - a sort of ready-to-eat-TV-dinner substitute for hard-won knowledge. As a result, so must we. It's a mandate I find impossible. Yet here it is. This man who does not like to read, has read one book over and again. Its message got him off the sauce, only to impose its own, more subtle, form of addiction: an addiction to faith.
"What I am condemning is that one power, with a president (George W. Bush) who has no foresight, who cannot think properly, is now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust." Nelson Mandela, Johannesburg, South Africa, January 30, 2003.
Based on faith, George W. Bush has initiated policies and actions that have violently taken the lives of thousands of civilians in Iraq. He's done so because he believes he was told to by God. He (he, not He) has spoken of this often enough. Even if he's lying or hallucinating about the God instructions, which he almost certainly is, is there anyone left with a measurable brain weight who still believes Bush acted from knowledge, or from evidence consistent with such drastic action? Does anyone believe that such an unbridled rush to slaughter was ordained?
Bush has justified everything he's done, every mistake, every avoidable, cold-blooded, child mangling impulse upon which he's acted, every act of economic and environmental squander, by invoking the same justification: Evildoers on September Eleventh; Evildoers on September Eleventh; Evildoers on September Eleventh. When God speaks, Dubya listens.
Now I ask you, if you were God, would George W. Bush be the person with whom you chose to speak? If you were God, would you let Albert Einstein, Henry Thoreau, Mother Jones, Oscar Wilde, Ben Franklin, Carl Sagan, Mae West - hell, John Denver, and billions of others, all go by without a word from you, not a simple, "well done," or even an admonition, yet take the time (or whatever He takes) to decide you should have a chat - several chats, apparently - with George W. Bush, then send him on a killing spree?
By the way, did God ever get back to George on that killing spree? Did He like what George did? After all, if God liked it, and George knows that, he could just show us some evidence and we'd stop all the damned badgering.
Did God like what George did? Does God approve? Does God know what's contained in the twenty-eight missing pages of the September-eleventh report form congress that George is keeping from us. Does God know about Harken Energy, or the AWOL thing? Does God know what George and his cronies are doing to God's little blue planet? I would submit that He does. So exactly what makes this guy God's favorite confidant?
Oh, I'll go along with the presumption that, as Lincoln invoked, "The Almightily has His own purposes," and I'll accept that "…moves in mysterious ways" thing up to a point - but Dubya? Dubya? That just doesn't play. Not even God would move in that mysterious a way. Let's say God, following a really quite extended silence, did choose George W. Bush as his auditory vicar on Earth. Let's just accept that Old Testament God (The choices are many. In the interest of brevity, I had to pick but one) told Eve about the apple, gave Noah the gloomy extended forecast, piped up again to tell Moses what not to do, and then for the most part went quiet (during which time some mortals actually postulated upon His demise) until Dubya came along, all ears and curiosity. Hmmm.
But before He spoke to George and told him what to do about the evildoers from September Eleventh, would God not have realized or taken into account that none of them evildoers was from Iraq? Would He not, in His infinite wisdom, care that 15 of them 19 evildoers as well as their Bogie Man leader came from Saudi Arabia? It's the Holy Land for crying out loud! Mecca! God (pick one) would know that kind of stuff. Don't ya think? After all, if there's anybody or any entity with even more numerous and tenuous connections to Saudi Arabia than the Bush family, it's got to be God. So He'd have known. I mean, c'mon, not even economists on the cable "news" shows give advice as stupid as that. God's got to be smarter than Kudlow and Cramer! God would' a known. He would not have told George to incinerate the wrong place. I got to figure George W. Bush did that. He should not blame God. God is not George Tenet.
Men will cease to commit atrocities only when they cease to believe absurdities. …Voltaire, Dictionnaire Philosophique, Paris, France,1764
Anyway, while being told to kill people by God might prove more persuasive than being told to kill people by, say, the Beatles or by Sam the Dog, it hardly justifies the indiscriminate, and preemptive mass slaughter of relatively innocent civilians such as that we've just witnessed. At least it doesn't justify it to those of us who are conventionally sane. Bush acted on faith. He heard voices in his head. He was wrong, and more than 3000 civilians - more than 3000 mothers, fathers, sons and daughters, children of God every one - died. They died in the streets, in their homes, in their beds, and in each others' arms: executed with neither convincing nor convicting evidence and solely by decree. That's the same number of Iraqis killed in the first Gulf war. Afterwards, in the ensuing years, due to the partial destruction of Iraq's health care and infrastructure systems through the real Daddy Bush's policies and actions, and our continued refusal under the Clinton administration to allow their rebuilding by foreign aid agencies, a total of 158,000 Iraqis died. Most of them - the vast majority in fact - were children - little evildoers, no doubt, but children nonetheless.
Miss that story, did you? Don't feel left out. The failed-actors-turned-network-stockholders who read the TV "news" their entertainment division bosses tell them to read in order to protect their stock-options, seem to have overlooked it as well. After all, we've got basketball players cheating on their spouses to report about. I mean, what with toppling statues, California's Total Recall, and important stuff like that, plus all those speeding-SUV commercials and "commentary" about the War On Terror (replete with video of those seven al-Qaeda terrorist guys on the jungle gym, over and over again), there are only so many minutes in a 24 hour newscast. But don't despair. You can still catch the sequel if you look and listen in the right places. To all indications it will be even worse this time around, too. The destruction in Iraq is far more complete this time.
How many more will die in this debacle is anyone's guess. But I don't need faith to tell me, that - absent a plausible justification - it will be too damned many!
Of course there are those who still believe Bush did not act on faith or divine advice alone in deciding to destroy the cradle of human civilization. He acted on principle. He killed over 3000 people outright because they lived in a country whose leader was (and as of this writing, apparently still is) a murderous lunatic who posed a threat to world piece. Bush did it all to make us safer.
That's what we've been told. Is that what you believe? If so, then you'd better hope no one else is willing to act on their beliefs.
I say that because a growing body of world opinion asserts that you too have a leader who kills innocent people and is a threat to world peace. (Yes. Dubya has killed more civilians than Osama. Remember Osama?) In fact, according to Time's recent Time-Europe poll of 750,000 people, 86% of those polled now believe that you and I live in a country whose leader poses the single most viable threat to world peace. We also have a whole load of weapons of mass destruction (Dubya Em Dee, for short) that actually exist. Does that mean you and your family deserve to die violent deaths? In the streets? In your homes? In your beds? In each others arms?
Since 96% of the world's population (or at least the 6.8-billion of them we know about) are not Americans, and they believe overwhelmingly that America and its current leader pose by far the greatest of all threats to their future security, what makes you think that you won't? Faith? Good luck with that one.
Now since it is evidence that separates knowledge from belief, what, then, comprises evidence?
In a legal context, Webster's defines one type of evidence as, Documentary or oral statements by acknowledged experts, admissible as testimony.
To qualify as an acknowledged expert on the economy for example, a testifying witness might have won an award "acknowledging" his actual accomplishments. George A. Akerlof, the Nobel Prize Laureate in Economics for 2001 would certainly qualify in the extreme.
"I think this (Bush Administration) is the worst government the US has ever had in its more than 200 years of history. It has engaged in extraordinarily irresponsible policies not only in foreign and economic but also in social and environmental policy. This is not normal government policy. …this is a form of looting." …George A. Akerlof, Berlin Germany, July 29, 2003.
Conversely, an expert on politics, and foreign policy might be an experienced journalist who's covered those areas and been trained in objective assessment. A supreme example would be Helen Thomas, the Dean of the White House Press Corps. With 60 years of experience, 40 of them covering the White House, "Doubting" Thomas is the most senior reporter watching the president and every other president in memory. She has covered three wars and eight presidencies. Helen Thomas has been recipient of more accolades from her peers (and her presidents) for political reportage than any White House correspondent in history.
"This (George W. Bush) is the worst president ever. He is the worst president in all of American history." …Helen Thomas, Los Angeles, California, January 23, 2003.
That's what Webster's calls expert testimony.
In conclusion, then, faith seems a reckless and irresponsible foundation upon which to base mortal, world-changing action. The kind of actions our president plunges into with a zealot's certainty require deliberation, evidence, reason, and knowledge. There's no place here for faith. Yet, on the face of it, an absence of faith might seem a gloomy and pessimistic way to view the world. On this last point, I've learned to disagree. So have others whose opinion counts more than should mine.
For example, I opened this column with Carl Sagan's quote: I'd rather know than believe.
Though I never will get the chance to meet Carl Sagan, whose words I used to begin this article, I did get to meet and speak with the late scientist's widow at a Hollywood gathering a few weeks ago. For those who've not seen it in the credits of the PBS series Cosmos, which she produced, or on the jacket of one of her books, or in the dedication of any number of Sagan's books, her name is Ann Druyan.
A woman of startling intellect, we met at a place appropriately called the Center For Inquiry where she was to deliver an important address. The occasion was a gathering of bookish types for a conference called The Assault On Reason. We all spoke of many things that day. We spoke of optimism, of pessimism, and of fact and fancy. But in a room full of skeptics, the topic inevitably came around to faith.
Ann Druyan seemed a realist, but an optimistic sort. So following her remarks to the packed room, I asked her about her faith.
"I have no faith," Ann Druyan said. Then, as if anticipating my next question, she added, "I have hope. I have a great deal of hope."
That's what I call expert testimony!
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